Our Work


Izenstark, D. & Ebata, A. (2017). The effects of the natural environment on attention and family cohesion: An experimental study.  Children Youth and Environments, 27, 93-109. 10.1111/jftr.12138

This study explored 1) mothers’ and middle-childhood daughters’ attention after exposure to two different environments, and 2) their quality of family cohesion. Twenty-seven mother-daughter dyads participated in two counterbalanced experimental conditions—a 20-minute walk at an arboretum and a mall—followed by a family interaction task. Before and after each walk, we measured attention using digit span backwards and measured family cohesion using direct observational coding methods. Results showed that exposure to nature restored individual attention, especially for mothers; was perceived as more fun, relaxing, and interesting; and contributed to greater dyadic cohesion.

Izenstark, D. & Ebata, A. (2016). Theorizing family-based nature activities and family functioning: The integration of attention restoration theory with a family routines and rituals perspective. Journal of Family Theory and Review, 8, 137-153. doi: 10.1111/jftr.12138

Time spent in nature has been recognized as beneficial for individuals, but the benefits of nature engagement for families remain significantly underresearched and lack theoretical underpinnings. We draw from the family studies, family leisure, and environmental psychology literature to suggest a new theoretical approach—integrating attention restoration theory and a routines and rituals perspective to study family-based nature activities. Attention restoration theory shows how certain types of behavioral settings have different effects on restored attention, which may influence interactions between family members, and a family routines and rituals perspective predicts greater developmental benefits from certain types of ritualized activities over onetime experiences. We argue that participation in family-based nature activities can serve as a pathway for positive family functioning more so than other types of leisure contexts.

Izenstark, D., Oswald, R.F., Holman, E.G., Mendez, S. & Greder, K. (2016). Rural, low-income mothers’ use of family-based nature activities to promote family health. Journal of Leisure Research, 48(2), 134-155. doi:

This study explores how rural, low-income mothers use family-based nature activities to promote the health of themselves and their families. Data were collected through in-person interviews with a sub-sample of mothers (n = 85) who participated in a larger multistate, mixed-methods longitudinal project. Grounded theory analysis techniques were used to depict the social process of how mothers engage in family-based nature activities to promote physical, psychological, and social health of each family member, as well as the health of the entire family within the context of rural poverty.

Izenstark, D. & Ebata, A. (2014). Connecting children and families to nature: An evaluation of a Natural Playscape. Parks and Recreation Magazine, 6, 62-66.

This study explored the Champaign County Forest Preserves new Natural Playscape between August-December, 2012 using a mixed methods approach. This entailed an on-site questionnaire (n=152), on-line survey for group leaders (n=8), one-on-one interviews (n=15) with parents and grandparents as well as participant observations at the Nature Playscape.

Stodolska, M., Shinew, K. J., Acevedo, J.C., & Izenstark, D. (2011). Parks as havens and contested terrains: Benefits and pitfalls of parks in Latino communities. Leisure Sciences, 33, 103-126.

The objectives of this study were to (1) identify the benefits of parks for Mexican-American urban residents and the roles they play in the dynamics of their communities and (2) explore issues related to their existence and utilization in Latino communities. Bedimo-Rung, Mowen, and Cohen’s (2005) model of the Role of Parks in Public Health was employed as a conceptual framework in this study. Data were collected in the summer of 2007 with two focus groups with 26 Mexican-American residents from two predominantly minority Chicago communities. Benefits of urban parks for Mexican-American residents were classified into five categories—environmental, social, psychological health, physical health, and cultural. The study also identified many problems related to the existence and utilization of parks in Latino communities that detracted from the benefits Mexican-Americans could obtain from visiting parks. They included insufficient access to parks, poor maintenance of the existing parks, crime and safety issues, and interracial conflict and discrimination. A new framework was proposed to model the benefits of parks for minority urban residents and factors that affect utilization of parks in minority communities.

Other Research

There is an increasing body of evidence for how exposure to nature affects the physical, psychological, and social health of individuals.

The Children and Nature Network maintains an archive of published, peer-reviewed articles on the benefits of nature for individuals, families and communities. To check out some of the latest research, click here: